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Laredo, Texas Named Least Diverse Metropolitan Area in the U.S.

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South Texas cities with large Latino populations are some of the least diverse communities in America, according to a US2010 Project study of Census data.

The Brown University research study considered the most diverse cities to be those where the major ethnic or racial categories are the most evenly spread–whites, Hispanics, blacks, Asians and another category mostly of Native Americans. As a result, cities where no one group is in the majority are defined as the most diverse. Those cities are rapidly increasing in number, fueled by a growing Latino population.

So why do I mention this study on an education blog? Because these trends are reflected in local schools as well. If your community is one of those changing the most rapidly, how are school leaders responding? As reporters, we often focus on the large urban districts. But it’s important to tell the story beyond the big cities and in the suburbs and rural areas, where the most striking changes are taking place.

While California accounts for the most diverse cities and places in the country, you may be surprised to see how many Texas cities land on the least-diverse list. Those Texas cities are all in South Texas, near the U.S. border with Mexico. In both California and Texas, the majority of public school students are not white.

Laredo, Texas, where Hispanics make up 96 percent of the metropolitan area, is the least diverse area in the United States. In 2011, of the 24,680 students in Laredo schools, 99.5 percent were Latino and 97 percent were economically disadvantaged. McAllen-Edinburg-Mission is also is in the top 25 least diverse areas in the U.S., with 91 percent of the population identified as Hispanic.

Texas again tops the list of the top 25 least diverse places in the U.S. The border town of Muniz, Texas, with a population of 1,370, is the least diverse place in the country. A total of eight South Texas cities make the least diverse list. Many of them are small towns.

Many of these border and South Texas cities have high poverty rates and the schools face significant challenges. What can other cities with growing Latino populations learn from both their successes–and failures?

South Texas has some of the first cities where dual-language programs became popular and widespread. A recent documentary, Mariachi High, showed how mariachi programs popular in South Texas schools have been successful in engaging more Hispanic students in school.

Elsewhere in the country, American cities of all population levels are rapidly growing in diversity and the Latino population is contributing significantly to the shift. The Wall Street Journal highlighted Sioux City, Iowa, a heartland city, as one of the examples of diversity’s expansion. Many Latinos work in the meat-processing plants and dairy farms in the area.

College recruiter Norma Azpeitia, 34, said she and her four siblings all attended college after her father moved the family from California to the Iowa city.

“We wanted to pursue a higher education and move beyond meat-processing work,” she told the Journal.

The researchers found that communities with populations between 25,000 and 250,000 saw the greatest gains in diversity. Cities where no one ethnic or racial group is in the majority are rapidly growing. Many of the most diverse cities have a large military presence.

California cities make up ten of the top 25 most diverse metropolitan areas. The cities of Vallejo and Fairfield, California, ranks as the most diverse area in the country and San Francisco/Oakland/Fremont as the second most diverse. But other cities have also grown, including the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta metropolitan area, Washington, D.C./Alexandria and Arlington, Va., and Las Vegas/Paradise Nev..